Theories of love

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Theories of love can refer to one of a number of psychological and sociological theories of love:


Love is a very complex concept that has changed over the course of time. Different societies, cultures and eras have attached different values to the word and have different perspectives on the concept. In the 17th century, one's family would pick the person one was going to marry based on social class and economical status. In some cultures, girls are married by the age of 14 or even younger. Love as a word has many different definitions because there are different types of loves. As society advances and modernizes every year, it becomes even more difficult to define. Love has been compared to God because of the power it has over those who believe in it. Love has the ability to be the source of human's happiness, sense of worth, and a source of healing from hurt or suffering.[1] This is a more religious and traditional definition of love. This definition hasn't disappeared, but more definitions joined it as the world began to modernize. In the 18th century, romantic love expressed sensibility and was authentic as it stood for "the truth of feeling".[2] Even today love is very symbolic in Western culture. It is viewed by many as the reason for living. A symbolic interaction theorists believe that shared meanings, orientations, and assumptions form the basic motives behind people's actions.[3]:31 Love is a universally known term and depending on the culture. Of course, not all countries place an importance on love. Countries such as Africa and India believe in arranged marriages and if love comes from that partnership, it is convenient, but not necessary.

Although love can be the motive for some people's actions and bring people joy, love can also bring us sadness. "Love does us no good if we love the wrong person."[4]:1 When people open their hearts, show their flaws, vulnerabilities, and weaknesses to the wrong person, it can result in heartbreak in regret. So why do humans deal with such a complicated thing such as love? Humans "need to love and to be loved".[4]:1

In society, there are four types of love that are visible: agape, phileo, storge, eros. Agape is a type of unconditional love which is less common in society but more apparent between individuals and their god. Phileo is a love used to describe friendship between individuals. This love is commonly seen between friends in public, especially as displays of warm gestures. Storge is another type of love that is expressed through parenting. Eros is a romantic love which was a type of love forbidden in early society and is still forbidden in some societies today.[5] These different types of love are expressed differently based on culture.

Love: A cultural perspective[edit]

Over the course of history, love has been expressed and shown differently all over the world. Display of love is different based on societal norms.[6] Love can include acts such as kissing, sex, emotional contact and companionship that contributes to happiness in relationships.[7] Different cultures have adopted new customs. For example, in Japan, public displays of affection are discouraged, and people believe in showing their love for their partner in a different way like packing their lunch for work. In France, people show their love by holding hands, kissing and initiating sexual relationships. The United States has a different perspective on love. People believe in going on dates, having casual sex, and are open to meeting new people in social media or dating apps. The customs in the US are generally more liberal than other parts of the world. Marriage traditions are largely cultural as well.

Marriage customs[edit]

Marriage can happen when two people fall in love and decide to share their life together, even though that is not how it always happens. Traditionally in the 19th century the choice of marriage was made by the parents based on political or economical considerations.[8] In India, arranged marriages are still part of their culture. Now elopement, also known as love marriage, has become dominant in some parts of India.[9] Marriage in Japan is more liberal when it comes to picking who they are going to marry. Arranged marriage in Japan would begin with courtship that would allow love to develop and would lead into an arranged marriage.[10] In the US, marriage customs would depend on the person's roots and values. The wedding and marriage depend on what each individual believes is right.

Society influences love[edit]

Society plays a big role in the way we see love based on social differences such as gender, race, economical status, religion, education and ethnicity.[11] In today's society, there are other major factors that influence how love is perceived by individuals. The biggest influence that we see in today modern society is social media and films. Media influences the expectations we have of what love should be.[12] Young adults are the target population that is mainly influenced by an unrealistic idea of love that they see over and over in films. For example, The Notebook projects that love can conquer all, the idealization of one's partner, soul mate/one and only and love at first sight.[13]

Necessity of love[edit]

Love allows people to attribute a sense of purpose for living.[14] From the moment of birth relationships are made: mother and child, father and child, grandparent and child, and the like. As people grow older and enter into schools, jobs, and get involved in their communities the number of relationships, they have grown, as does their ability to maintain these relationships. Love can have a powerful effect on the human body. Irving Singer wrote, "For a person in love ... life is never without meaning."[15]:2 A person's life is built the love between two people – their parents, the love they share for the friendships they make and eventually, the person they marry and have children of their own with. The feelings love brings: happiness, empathy, mutual respect, a sense of purpose, can lead to stronger motivation, less stress, a positive outlook on life, and hope.[14]:xi Love allows humans to communicate through their emotions. To love effectively, one has to love themselves first: to love another person's flaws and quirks, one has to love their own flaws and quirks.[14]:x

Humans are not the only species in the world that can feel love and its effects. Non-human animals can feel love as well, although it is less complex and less creative.[15]:19 Many animals feel emotions. When a dog wags its tail or licks its owner after being parted for a few hours, this is interpreted as happiness. When a person leaves for work in the morning and their dog cries at the window, it exhibits sadness. A growling dog who doesn't like it when someone touches its favorite toy is showing anger. Animals can feel love as well as other basic emotions humans feel. Dogs that grow up with siblings create strong bonds to their sibling. If their sibling dies, the dog can go into depression and refuse to eat.

Types of love[edit]

Humans come across different types of love as they reach different levels are maturity in their life, such as the love a mother feels for their child, the love that involves the instant attraction to person, and the love that comes from years of being together. The love humans share for their family and friends can be viewed as "slow love". This love is based on finding shared interests and lifestyles that connect people to each other in reality.[16]:11 It's a love that can be carried out because of the common interests that bind them together. It is more of a mental attraction than a physical attraction. Visually, we make interpretations on love based off the way a person looks. "Harmonism" and "echoism" are the ways a face is constructed that makes one physically attractive: the distance between the forehead and nose, distant between the mouth and chin, how close the eyes are together, the sweep of one's eyebrows.[16]:10The biochemical level fluctuation of a person can also explain the question “Who We Love”. People who have expressive traits of dopamine system: curious and energetic tend to be drawn to people who have similar personalities. People have relative high level of serotonin system traits: cautious and social conforming are attracted to their same kind as well. However, people who are foremost with expressive traits of sex hormones tend to be enchanted by their opposite kinds. People with a relative high testosterone hormone are analytical and tough minded.[17] They tend to choose people with relative high estrogen hormone who are empathetic and pro-social. Beside the biochemical level explanation, there are also a few other elements affect people’s choices of mates. Another factor influences who people choose to love is timing. Love can happen when one least expects. Furthermore, people are more easily to fall in love when they are emotionally aroused, especially in a hard and lonely time. This is because such a mental state is associated with arousal mechanism in brains and elevated level of stress hormone, both of which increase the level romantic passion hormone: dopamine. Distance is another element influences people’s love choices: people tend to choose to fall in love with those close to them.[18] Childhood experience also influences on mate choices. By the teenage years, people gradually construct a catalog of aptitudes and mannerisms they are looking for in a mate. Subtle differences in their experiences shape romantic tastes.[19] Physical looking matters as well. From an anthropological point of view, a male tend to choose a female with a visual sign of youth and beauty, which indicates her high estrogen level and strong reproductive ability. However, a female with a more pragmatic and realistic goal, tends to choose a male with education, ambition, wealth, respect, status, masculine appearance.[20]

Another reason why we love who we love has to do with culture and history.[3]:371 Take incest, for example. In some Western cultures, falling in love with one's first cousin could be seen as possibly 'taboo' and therefore morally and lawfully wrong. However, it is legal to marry one's cousin in many western countries, eg the UK. Similarly, in some Muslim tribes, it is perfectly acceptable to fall in love with one's cousin. In the past, kissing cousins in Western societies were not uncommon. In addition, in the past, mixed-race marriages were illegal the United States. This led to people only marrying people of the same race. However, now that the society of the United States has changed drastically, it is common and completely acceptable to find couples of different races.

Another type of love people come across in their life is sexual love. As an individual crosses over from a child to a teen to an adult, this type of love becomes more relevant in their life. According to Milligan, "Sexualized intimate love is delusional and requires an overestimation of the person we love."[4]:2 A sexual love is a misconception of the person's beauty, intelligence, or charm. This type of love can reveal a lot about the person who's feeling such strong passionate feelings. It gives more insight into the lover than it gives about the loved. Sexual love isn't love at first sight – it is basic human instinct and hormonal responses.[15]:20

Vertical and Horizontal Structure of Love[edit]

Vertical Structure[edit]

Philips Shaver and colleagues found that emotions knowledge could be represented hierarchically. By collecting data about males’ and females’ cognition of “Love”, researchers used a prototype approach to investigate the concept of love. “Love” is a basic level of concept includes super-ordinate categories of emotions: affection, adoration, fondness, liking, attraction, caring, tenderness, compassion, arousal, desire, passion, and longing. Love contains large sub-clusters that designate generic forms of love: friendship, sibling relationship, martial relationship etc. Such as, “affection”, similar to “companionate love” in social psychology field, is the term most strongly co-occurs with terms in its generic sub-cluster and not with other terms in other sub-cluster groups: “Affection” for example contrasts significantly with “passionate love”, which belongs to the second large sub-cluster – “Lust”.[21]

Horizontal Structure[edit]

Love can also be examined along a horizontal dimension with a prototype approach as well. Psychologists Beverley, Fehr and James Russell designed and conducted six experiments to examine the concept of love horizontally: Free Listing of Subtypes of Love; Rating the Goodness of Love Examples; Reaction Time to Verify Love Category Memberships; the Fuzzy Boarder of Love definition; the Sustainability of the Subcategory of Love; Love Subcategory Family Resemblances.  For example, Beverly Fehr and James Russell examined the concept of love by carrying out the fifth experiment, the Sustainability of the Subcategory. They selected 10 sentences that defined “Love” written by one group of participants and 10 definitions of “Love” from textbooks. They asked another groups of participants to judge how weird or natural those sentences sounded when the word “Love” in those definitions was substituted  by targeted sub-category terms. When a prototypical sub-type substituted, such as friendship, the sentence sounded subjectively natural. However, when a peripheral sub-type, such as infatuation, took the place of “Love” in the definitions, it yielded subjectively peculiar results. “In sum, Fehr identified a set of features of love that appear to have a clear prototype structure in terms of some features being better and some being poorer exemplars of the concept of love, and this difference appears to affect other aspects of the way love-related phenomena are processed.”[22]

Later Arthur Aron and Lori Westbay expanded the underlying structure of love prototype of Fehr’s research. To understand the way people deal with love-related information, Aron and Westbay examined the latent structure and individual differences within Fehr’s subgroup structure with three validation tests. They concluded that people generally understand the concept of love centralizing around three dimensions (passion, intimacy and commitment) which correspond to Sternberg’s triangular theory of love. An individual’s prototype of love limits his or her experience of a relationship, but the degree of these three dimensions that the individual emphasizes on depends on circumstances of that relationship.[23][24]

Love in the 21st century[edit]

Today, love is still highly valued in the Western society. Love is so viewed so important and special. It is put on such a pedestal that it is almost impossible to fulfill all the expectations that people have for their relationships and marriages. For example, with the rising of "promposals", which are extravagant ways of asking someone to prom, exhibit the way that the expectations of romance are increasing. Today, sex lives are commonly flaunted rather than hidden as they used to be.[25] Compared to the past, people are more open to sexuality, promiscuity, and divorce. As the world continues to change the views on love, its significance will continue to modify as the minds of people change.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ May, Simon (2011). Love: A Secret History. Yale University Press. p. 1. ISBN 9780300177237 – via ProQuest ebrary.
  2. ^ Featherstone, Mike (1999). Love and Eroticism. SAGE Publications Ltd. p. 112. ISBN 9781848609402 – via ProQuest ebrary.
  3. ^ a b Conley, Dalton (2015). You May Ask Yourself. W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 9780393937749.
  4. ^ a b c Milligan, Tony (2011). The Art of Living: Love. Routledge. ISBN 9781317547624 – via ProQuest ebrary.
  5. ^ Murphy, Peter (2003). "The Dance Of Love". Thesis Eleven. 72: 65–90. doi:10.1177/0725513603072001860.
  6. ^ Rosenblatt, Paul (1976). "Marital Residence And The Function Of Romantic Love". Ethnology.
  7. ^ Kim, Jungsik; Hatfield, Elaine (2004). "Love Types and Subjective Well-Being: A Cross-Cultural Study". Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal. 32 (2): 173. doi:10.2224/sbp.2004.32.2.173.
  8. ^ Murstein, Bernard I (1971). Theories of Attraction and Love. Springer Publishing Company, INC.
  9. ^ Keera, Allendorf (2013). "Schemas of Marital Change: From Arranged Marriages to Eloping for Love". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ Lebra, Takie Sugiyama (1978). "Japanese Women and Marital Strain". Ethos. 6: 22–41. doi:10.1525/eth.1978.6.1.02a00030.
  11. ^ Ridgeway, Cecilia (2009). "How Easily Does a Social Difference Become a Status Distinction? Gender Matters". Scholarly Journals.
  12. ^ Storey, John (2014). "Love's best habit: The uses of media in romantic relationships". International Journal of Cultural Studies. 17 (2): 113–125. doi:10.1177/1367877912467274.
  13. ^ Hefner, Veronica (2013). "From Love at First Sight to Soul Mate: The Influence of Romantic Ideals in Popular Films on Young People's Beliefs about Relationships". Journal Article.
  14. ^ a b c Määttä, Kaarina (2013). Many Faces of Love. Sense Publishers. pp. ix. ISBN 9789462092068 – via ProQuest ebrary.
  15. ^ a b c Singer, Irving (2009). Meaning of Life: The Pursuit of Love. The MIT Press. ISBN 9780262259194.
  16. ^ a b Malin, Suzi (2004). Love At First Sight: Why You Love Who You Love. New York: DK Publishing. ISBN 9780756604011.
  17. ^ E., Fisher, Helen (2010). Why him? Why her? (1st Holt paperback ed.). New York: Henry Holt & Co. ISBN 9780805091526. OCLC 424560137.
  18. ^ Ayala., Malakh-Pines (1999). Falling in love : why we choose the lovers we choose. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0585452555. OCLC 52702534.
  19. ^ E., Fisher, Helen (2004). Why we love : the nature and chemistry of romantic love (1st ed.). New York: H. Holt. ISBN 9780965920537. OCLC 53170142.
  20. ^ E., Fisher, Helen (2016-02-25). Anatomy of love : a natural history of mating, marriage, and why we stray (Completely revised and updated ed.). New York. ISBN 9780393349740. OCLC 973929270.
  21. ^ Shaver, P.; Schwartz, J.; Kirson, D.; O'Connor, C. (June 1987). "Emotion knowledge: further exploration of a prototype approach". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 52 (6): 1061–1086. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.52.6.1061. ISSN 0022-3514. PMID 3598857.
  22. ^ Fehr, Beverley; Russell, James A. (1991). "The concept of love viewed from a prototype perspective". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 60 (3): 425–438. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.60.3.425. ISSN 0022-3514.
  23. ^ Aron, Arthur; Westbay, Lori (1996). "Dimensions of the prototype of love". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 70 (3): 535–551. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.70.3.535. ISSN 1939-1315.
  24. ^ The Mating Game: A Primer on Love, Sex, and Marriage. 2455 Teller Road,  Thousand Oaks  California  91320  United States: SAGE Publications, Inc. 2008. doi:10.4135/9781452274812. ISBN 9781412957052.
  25. ^ Bruckner, Pascal; Randall, Steven; Golsan, Richard (2012). The Paradox of Love. Princeton University Press. p. 142. ISBN 9781400841851 – via ProQuest ebrary.